Fear, lies and abuse: the private school cover-up

A longer version of my article published in The Times, 3 April 2017

It is, they say, good to tell the story. Let it out: nightmares are best cured by daylight. But what do you do next? Three years ago I decided to come out as a survivor of abuse, physical and psychological, at boarding school. I’m a journalist, so I did what comes naturally: I published an article in a magazine. I told how I had returned to my famous prep school, where a police investigation had begun. Ashdown House had made the front page of the Daily Mail – ‘‘Boris school at the centre of probe into sexual abuse’ – because Boris Johnson, Damian Lewis and the Queen’s nephew David Linley had been there.

In the piece I detailed some of those abuses, the emotional and the physical violence that tinged all our lives. I told about Mr Keane, the angry young teacher who used to take us by the ears and throw us around. In calmer moments, Keane would give us sweets in return for a fumble inside our corduroy shorts. I made some wider points about the stream of stories emerging about similar schools, and the astonishing fraud practised on rich parents by the boarding school industry in the 20th century, in persuading them that their children would be cared for and safe. All the evidence – with scandal following scandal – now seemed to show that the children in the schools of the privileged were as preyed upon as those in the worst council-run care homes.

The reaction to my story was immediate – and shockingly personal. “You’re a class traitor,” said one friend, whose son had just started at Eton. I thought she might have been joking – but she wasn’t the only one. A few days after publication I was at a smart Edinburgh art gallery party, standing with a glass of free wine in a group of people I vaguely know. “Don’t stand too close to Renton!” one of them, an old Etonian businessman, suddenly announced, grabbing my arm. “He might put his hand down your trousers!” Most of the group chuckled.

This is – for anyone who needs the explanation – is a stiff-upper-lip joke. You may have to be posh to get it. If you care, or object, you’re not really one of us. At heart, it says, “let’s not be too serious about things, old chap”. Showing excessive emotion, revealing one’s private troubles to the wider world is a failure, almost a blasphemy. “”It isn’t not what we do,” said an elderly relative of my revelations. These attitudes, some would say, are what made Britain great and kept the establishment in power. Others might say they are the source of an awful lot of unhappiness.

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2 thoughts on “Fear, lies and abuse: the private school cover-up

  1. Robert BARRETT says:

    What has happened to my comment , Alex ?

    Incidentally a Daily Mail report of allegation about Raef has been made: parties where indecent or obscene images of children were passed around . Raef was Master-in-College, 1957-68 & was subsequently in charge of an Oppidan House , 1968-84 (concurrently with Tim Card (d 2001, David Callender & Robert Hardy. Could the latter 2 cast any light ? ).
    Surely Raef would have been caught & brought to book during his life if he had ?
    There was a Thanksgiving Service f him .

    Nick CT Wheeler (Charles Tyhrritt fame) sent a circular letter to RJGP Old Boys
    trying to raise a Memorial Fund in his memory covering Classics & Music , c 2011 ,
    10 years after his death at 71 . He also organised a Reunion dinner of RJGP Old Boys c 2004 .

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  2. Robert BARRETT says:

    A Daily Mail report of allegation about Raef has been made:
    parties where indecent or obscene images of children were passed around .
    Raef was Master-in-College, 1957-68 & was subsequently in charge of an Oppidan House , 1968-84
    (concurrently with Tim Card (d 2001), David Callender & Robert Hardy ! Could the latter 2 cast any light ? ).
    Surely Raef would have been caught & brought to book during his life if he had ?
    There was a Thanksgiving Service f him .

    Nick CT Wheeler (Charles Tyhrritt fame) sent a circular letter to RJGP Old Boys
    trying to raise a Memorial Fund in his memory covering Classics & Music , c 2011 ,
    10 years after his death at 71 . He also organised a Reunion dinner of RJGP Old Boys c 2004 .

    He enjoyed good relations with Antony Acland , erstwhile Provost, & Douglas Hurd, who were contemporaries in Sixth Form Select .
    I found him pleasant & friendly . My father knew him at Trinity College Cambridge & the Bunbury Club .
    My cousin Wilfred Blunt recommended him as a House Master to my parents & grandparents .
    I do not doubt that Raef may or may not have socialised with men of homo-sexual orientation ,
    and Larry Jarratt (LAJ) was a queer & a good friend of his who spent the last days of his life in Raef’s House.
    I have read his obituaries in & know that he had a Thanksgiving Service late in 2001.

    I had successive dotty House Masters, PH (AKA Weasel ; 72-73) followed by NAR (AKA Nutty Norman ; 73-74 ) .
    I had heard that Norman used to read gay porn, sometimes leaving it lying around on the private side of the House,
    something that was mentioned during conversations with younger NAR Old Boys in the pub after his Thanksgiving Service.
    It went beyond reasonable doubt that he was as queer as a coot.
    Yet on Web of Stories he took a line on porn circulating on grounds of “not wanting to upset other people who might see it”.
    Here I see some inconsistency . Both of them had irritating streaks of inconsistencies regarding principles or red lines .
    Boarding did not suit me entirely & no single school is not really for everyone even f descendants of its former pupils.

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